“Out of place”?: On being a black woman in predominantly white spaces: invisibility and racism in 80% black Salvador, Bahia

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“We know of the discomfort of situations in which we blacks are noticed, admonished, in a mixture of curiosity and amazement on the part of observers who are surprised by the black presence in their environment. In my research, several interviewees mentioned that they are looked at with curiosity when engaged in social activities related to the middle class, and with distrust when they want to acquire or enjoy the social and symbolic goods associated with people of higher purchasing power. And even when possessing of these goods, there is the embarrassment aroused by the various questions about the actual possibility that these black individuals may be the true owners of certain goods, that they have sufficient financial resources to pay off an acquired debt, or that they may attend social spaces identified with middle class.”

Note from BW of Brazil: The above citation is taken from “Fora do jogo: a experiência dos negros na classe média brasileira” (Out of the game: Brazilian black middle class experiences) by sociologist Angela Figueiredo (2004) and is a fitting intro for the experience shared in today’s piece. In the past few decades, the city of Salvador, the capital city of the northeastern state of Bahia, has drawn the attention of numerous black tourists as well as social scientists intrigued with the city that is known as Brazil’s center of African culture and its large majority black population.

Salvador, Bahia - Marcha do Empoderamento Crespo (2017)
Marcha do Empoderamento Crespo (2017) – Curly/kinky haired Empowerment March in Salvador, Bahia

But Salvador is also known for what many have defined as “Bahian Apartheid” due to the fact that the state’s power structure is completely white, the racial breakdown of  upper crust neighborhoods, clear divisions of spectaculars along lines of color during Carnaval and the white artists that dominate the music scene while singing music of Afro-Bahian origin. Keep all of this in mind while you read this article along with the fact that Salvador is a city that has a more than an 80% Afro-Brazilian majority.

Salvador, Bahia
Salvador, Bahia, located in Brazil’s northeast

On being a black woman in predominantly white spaces: invisibility and racism in Salvador

By Júlia Freitas

Yesterday I went to a “mitiê” party in the city; an expensive ticket for soteropolitano (Salvador) standards and for my pocket, a sea of “gente bonita” (beautiful people); brancos, lisos, loiros, sarados (white, straight hair, blond, tight bodies). few, almost no one, looked like me, except – logically – the service providers: the boys at the bar, the cleaning ladies, the boys who collected the trash from handcrafted beer bottles at all times.

the dynamic that I’m going to tell now is not only in this party, but in most of the spaces I attend and where I am the only one, or one of the few pessoas negras (black people) in the place.

first, I wanted to talk about the invisibilidade da mulher negra (invisibility of the black woman) in particular.

at the same time that I am noticed, with astonishment, being the exception in the place, I am also completely ignored by the others present. I perceive this in the way everyone passes by and runs into me, without apologizing, or taking cuts in front of me, without worrying about if they disturbed my vision or stepped on my foot, or how they brazenly take cuts in front of me in line, or how close the circle and leave me out of the picture, the chat, the space.

chess - black queen white pieces

Earlier I went to a feira (street market), the kind that happens in the squares on weekends, and when I approached the booths it took a long, long time to get noticed and tended to.

it didn’t matter if they had more customers or not, I was solemnly ignored and only received attention from the exhibitors when I said “hi, can someone here please help me?”. and this always happens. almost always, I mean. in the tent of name brand shirts I was helped before even entering the box, but understand; the exhibitors were black. and just like me they must know what it is to enter a store at the mall, or a restaurant, or any other place where we need to be noticed by someone else, but instead have our presence ignored.

Anyway, I wanted to tell the racists that I realize what is happening around me and I am very uncomfortable! but that I will continue resisting, attending these spaces even if it is not welcomed by a majority. because it is important that you understand that we will not lower our guard and we will not take a step back.

it’s past time you got used to our presence because we’re not going anywhere, we’re going to stand here and resist.

Source: medium.com/@juliafreitasba, Figueiredo, Angela. (2004). Fora do jogo: a experiência dos negros na classe média brasileira. Cadernos Pagu, (23), 199-228. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0104-83332004000200007

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


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